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Setting standards

The need for globally recognised standards for pharmaceutical product handling has gained momentum in the past year. Keith Mwanalushi discusses some of the key issues that have arisen

Pharmaceutical transportation is a unique process and is incomparable to other kinds of freight movements. IATA created CEIV Pharma to address the industry’s need for more safety, security, compliance and efficiency, by the creation of a globally consistent and recognised pharmaceutical product handling certification.


IATA says by establishing a common baseline from existing regulations and standards, this certification ensures international and national compliance to safeguard product integrity while addressing specific air cargo needs.


CEIV is certainly gaining momentum, as witnessed by the number of certifications that have been awarded in the last 12 months – from air cargo operators, airports and ground handlers dealing with temperature sensitive cargoes, especially pharmaceuticals.


Several pharmaceutical manufacturers have production facilities in and around Belgium and use air freight as a standard mode of transport – so CEIV was crucial at Brussels Airport. “The strategic focus of the airport on the pharma segment is important to continue our interaction with the shippers and to maintain our position as preferred European pharma gateway,” declares Nathan De Valck, Cargo Business and Product Development Manager at Brussels Airport Company.

To date, De Valck says Brussels is part of the largest certified CEIV community. “In the past years we have organised additional training sessions to new operators in the certified community and to allow operators to renew their certification which expires every three years.  So, the group of certified companies continues to grow.”

Earlier this year, Hong Kong International Airport and Brussels Airport launched an airport-to-airport (A2A) pharma corridor with full CEIV compliance. De Valck explains the objective was to create transparency for the shippers and give a quality assurance. “Instead of just announcing a pharma lane composed of CEIV certified operators, our ambition went further,” he states.


In collaboration with Pharma.Aero and the pharmaceutical manufacturers, they validated a route mapping protocol which includes clear requirements and KPI’s for all the operators involved in the handling of a pharma shipment from origin to destination, De Valck mentions. “The BRU-HKG pharma lane is now being evaluated with this protocol using test shipments.  We plan to have enough mapping data based on these test shipments soon so that the shippers can evaluate and endorse the performance.”

Pharma.Aero was launched to expand the pharma handling innovations from a local airport level to a start-to-end lane level. De Valck feels Pharma.Aero has gained a lot of momentum since its launch and has become a very dynamic group where the members work, share best practices and test and implement new ideas to improve the handling of pharmaceutical shipments. He explains: “ It supports the strong growth of the pharma segment at our airport.”

CEIV involves some stringent standards. Gordon Johnson, Global Head of Optimisation, Temperature Management Solutions at DHL Global Forwarding says globally, the pharmaceutical market is approaching $1 trillion and continues to grow at a healthy rate.


“In my experience, forward-thinking pharmaceutical companies are looking to approach transportation from a scientific, data-driven, risk-based perspective as their products, markets and business models continue to radically transform.

“All of us, to some extent, are digitising our processes, and incorporating the data gleamed from these exercises into fuel to propel our organisations forward in the 4th industrial revolution, sometimes referred to as Industry 4.0,” Johnson tells.


Johnson argues that it’s more a question of whether companies are willing to invest in the standardisation and democratisation of meaningful data that extends and transforms digital systems, helping all value chain partners to perform better. “We must continue to develop and improve future-compatible, adaptable, and multi-stakeholder-led standards and practices through standards such as CEIV.”


In March, Dallas Fort Worth (DFW) International Airport announced it received its own CEIV certification. “We knew the process was going to be challenging and the validation phase would be very demanding, however, we were pleasantly surprised with the level of commitment and diligence from all our CEIV partners, which resulted in one of the fastest CEIV validations for an airport community,” states John Ackerman, Executive Vice President of Global Strategy and Development.  He recalls the level of dedication from the airport’s partners which proved to be very valuable and mitigated unanticipated circumstances throughout the validation process.

DFW commissioned an economic impact study of its cargo business four years ago and developed a new strategy around those findings. “We found opportunities in the cold supply chain and made a strategic decision to take the steps toward becoming a pharma gateway.”


The pharma and life sciences sector are high value, one of the fastest growing verticals for air cargo, and is forecasted to outpace the growth of general cargo for several years into the future, Ackerman reckons. “We viewed the development of a pharma community at DFW that meets CEIV standards as a necessary step toward becoming a central US pharma hub for both exports and imports, with the long-term vision of attracting pharma distribution and manufacturing activities to the DFW area. Moreover, we see a social responsibility to handling pharma products with the highest global standards that ensure product integrity throughout the supply chain,” he stipulates.

Ackerman adds that the pharma community also brings DFW one step closer to establishing a pharma gateway, where manufacturers, shippers, and other stakeholders can send their premium shipments and be assured that the processes will maintain product integrity. “Since becoming a CEIV pharma community, we have already begun to see an uptick in pharma shipments particularly to Europe.” >>

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